Striding forward

Yesterday, Julio Montoya took time out from an 18-hour walk to visit City Hall, hoping to shake Mayor Martin O'Malley's hand.

Montoya is a Peruvian national who lost part of his right leg in a land mine explosion five years ago. On June 22, he set out on a 1,500-mile trek from Boston to Miami meant to inspire people with disabilities. About six weeks and 400 miles later, Montoya, arrived in Baltimore.


While at City Hall, representatives of the mayor presented him with a black T-shirt and matching baseball cap, an American flag and a letter of honorary citizenship - but he missed an O'Malley handshake.

Judy Orlinsky, director of international affairs for the city, said the mayor's office didn't receive Montoya's request for a meeting until late yesterday, well after the mayor's schedule had been set.


Although disappointed that he didn't meet O'Malley, Montoya said he was happy to be welcomed into the mayor's ceremonial room inside City Hall.

"Many times people don't accept themselves after accidents," Montoya said. "If you have a terrible problem, try to look at how you can use yourself to help other people."

Montoya wears a prosthesis below his right knee. He first visited Baltimore four years ago when he spent time recovering from his injuries at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He returned to the United States in May on a six-month tourist visa to attend the graduation ceremonies of several medical students who helped him recover.

The former Peruvian soldier said he came up with the idea for his trek to inspire physically challenged people.

Montoya said the journey has tested his strength and courage, but he said he's determined to prove that people can overcome physical disabilities.

Montoya said he typically begins walking about 4:30 a.m. and doesn't stop until about 11 p.m. He carries only a few items in his backpack, including a change of clothing, medical supplies, a flashlight and water. Montoya said he only has a few dollars in his pocket and relies on people's good will for food and lodging.

Montoya said he plans to travel through Elkridge, Laurel and College Park, and then arrive in Washington on Aug. 10, where he hopes to make a stop on Capitol Hill to show the nation's leaders that people with disabilities are capable people.